Oct 30, 2018

Don't Answer the Phone! (1980)


The New York Times said the film was “a nasty, dimly executed exploitation movie about a psychopathic fellow who roams around Los Angeles strangling women with stockings and then mutilating their bodies. The performances are terrible, as are the writing and the direction."  I think that's as close to an endorsement for a VZ1 review as you'll get.  Let's have a look...




The movie begins with a first-person Jason Voorhees perspective stalking a nurse (Dale Kalberg) coming home from work. The intruder lurks in the shadows, watching her talk on the phone (with uniform conveniently unbuttoned).

The nurse is strangled by a man wearing a stocking over his head.  He tears her clothes off and laughs psychotically.

There's no guessing who this killer is - this isn't a mystery.  The serial killer is a Vietnam vet named Kirk (Nicholas Worth).  He stops by a pay phone to call in to a radio show.

The radio show is a psychology program hosted by Dr. Lindsay Gale (Flo Lawrence). Kirk calls in faking a Spanish accent and acting like a nutjob.

 When she's not on the air, Lindsay runs a free clinic.  Today she's working with a patient named Carol (Paula Warner).

Kirk lurks around the free clinic and follows Carol home and attacks her in the night, then picks her up and carries her to the bed.  This whole scene is just hard to watch - I can't imagine seeing it in the theater.


 Kirk pours some kind of chemical on her which kills her.  

 Kirk cruises around Los Angeles looking for victims, providing some cool street scene shots.

 Kirk is a photographer, and he's lured a girl named Sue Ellen (Pamela Jean Bryant) to his apartment. She's aspiring to be a model. I'm reminded of Double Exposure and The Photographer.

As you'd expect, Kirk stops playing nice and attacks Sue Ellen, strangling her to death.

Pamela Jean Bryant may be the most noteworthy face in this film. She was Playboy's Playmate of the Month for April 1978.  Bryant first appeared in Playboy in the September 1977 pictorial "The Girls of the Big Ten". (She was attending Indiana University at the time). She went on to have an extensive acting career, appearing in films such as H.O.T.S. (1979) and Private Lessons (1981), and on TV shows such as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Dukes of Hazzard and Magnum, P.I..

The shot of a strangled Sue Ellen in the mirror is unsettling.  This film is certainly disturbing, but it's been called "a routinely mindless sickie" which is a bit unfair since the imagery is potent and often profoundly dark.  There is an artfulness in portraying the violence here... a shame Richard Hammer only directed this one film.


Kirk lures a hooker (Susanne Severeid) to a shitty motel room.  He has her call Lindsay's radio show and kills her while on air.


The radio show crew are stunned by what just transpired on their show.  Dig that Close Encounters poster!

Lindsay is called into questioning by two detectives, Hatcher and McCabe.  These guys are unbearable.  Too much of this movie is spent watching these two idiots.  Robert Hammer's main writing credit is a few episodes of Mannix, so I presume he felt in his comfort zone here.  Unfortunately, it feels like a really bad seventies cop show when these detectives are on screen (their names even sound like they could be a seventies cop show! - Hatcher & McCabe on CBS!)

 Watching these two clowns try and track down the killer is nothing short of cringeworthy.  From shaking down pimps to sweet talking whores, it's like Starsky & Hutch, but oh so much worse.

 Lindsay and McCabe start to hit it off, and are soon sleeping together.

While Hatcher & McCabe are busy killing pimps (quite literally) but making no progress whatsoever, Kirk is back on the prowl.  Posing as a photographer, he meets with a model named Joyce (Gail Jensen).

Kirk rips her clothes off then strangles her.  Gail Jensen was actually married to David Carradine.  Interestingly enough, she composed the theme music for The Fall Guy.

 Joyce's roommate (Joyce Ann Jodan) enters the room (topless) while Kirk is strangling her.

Kirk then proceeds to strangle the roommate.  This is Joyce Ann Jodan's only IMDb credit.  Yep, her only film has her getting strangled topless. Bravo.

 The cops are able to track down the serial killer via a stack of photos left at the crime scene.  Chuck "Porky" Mitchell plays a pornographer who recognizes the work as Kirk's.

 Kirk breaks into Lindsay's home, ties her up and tortures her.

McCabe arrives in the nick of time to rescue Lindsay and kill Kirk.  THE END

As I said before, this movie is dark and nasty; kudos to writer/director Hammer for not being afraid of diving into the sewer.  I'm reminded of The Toolbox Murders, a very similar film.  It also wallowed in the grimy, sick world of the seventies serial killer..... and it also jumped the shark halfway through.

Yes, both films shit the bed at the halfway mark (okay, maybe two-thirds).  In The Toolbox Murders, an utterly nihilistic piece of seventies sleaze turns into an After School Special starring Wesley Eurie of Land of the Lost.  In this case, it turns into a shitty seventies cop drama.  Hatcher & McCabe take over the plot and screen time, rending this film abysmally unoriginal and tiring. Other than the brutal scene featuring Gail Jensen, once Hatcher & McCabe are introduced, this is like a bad episode of Mannix, Kojak or The Rockford Files.  No thanks.

2 comments:

  1. Funny, Nicholas Worth was on Rockford Files and Starsky & Hutch, plus tons of other great stuff. I always remember him as playing a tough on gritty shows/films, which makes it odd that his most appearances was on Night Court.

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    1. He plays a pretty convincing sicko in this flick. The guy went "all in" when it came to portraying a perverted hot mess.

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